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Thursday, January 31, 2008

John Edwards - The Kingmaker?

John Edwards dropped out of the race yesterday, leaving only Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary. A few readers sent me emails regarding his decision, and one of them, Dave, emailed me these cogent thoughts:

"Edwards is out and already receiving adulatory press. Where was that press when he was still a viable candidate? Now everyone is saying he was the classiest, most principled, most idea-driven, civil, etc, candidate in the race, but they never said that before."

Dave is absolutely right. In response, I would only say that the press is treating this like a funeral. When people are alive, they're fair game for criticism and scrutiny, but when they pass on, you see a moratorium on those character critiques for a while, leaving only blandishments and fond remembrance.

Even Obama and Clinton bathed Edwards in praise. Obama did his best Edwards impression in his assessment of Edwards' issues and campaign: "At a time when our politics is too focused on who's up and who's down, he made a nation focus again on who matters -- the New Orleans child without a home, the West Virginia miner without a job, the families who live in that other America that is not seen or heard or talked about by our leaders in Washington."

Clinton was sure to offer her own praise: "John Edwards ended his campaign today in the same way he started it -- by standing with the people who are too often left behind and nearly always left out of our national debate."

While it would be unfair to doubt the sincerity of the two remaining candidates, let us not fool ourselves when it comes to their motivation of these public announcements. Endorsement or not, they want his voters. Badly.

The question everyone seems to be asking is, "Who does this help more?"

It is clear this helps Barack Obama, and that's if Edwards doesn't endorse either one. (Of the two, realistically speaking, the only one Edwards could possibly endorse is Obama, as Obama much more resembles the campaign Edwards was running.)

Edwards still polls between 10 and 15 percent in all major national polls. Considering Obama trails Clinton by between 6 and 13, if he can take 2/3 - 3/4 of the Edwards voters, he'll pull within a statistical tie in most major polls by Super Tuesday. To do this by Super Tuesday is significant, as the lead cannot seem insurmountable on Fallout Wednesday.

This shift in numbers also affects the number of delegates to be won by each, which ultimately is the most important battle. Obama's current miniscule lead in the delegate count is a drop in the bucket of the total delegate count to be won during the entire primary season. He's up 63-48 in a race to earn at least 2,025 out of 4,049. He has 3.1% of the total delegates needed. By Super Tuesday's conclusion, half of the 4,049 delegates will be awarded, compared to just 3.3% thus far.

Edwards was destined to win about 10% of the roughly 2,000 delegates available on Super Tuesday. For the math-impaired out there, that's about 200 delegates that will now be divvied up among Obama and Clinton. If Obama takes 75% of them, which is reasonable, that's 150 to Clinton's 50 - a 100 point spread - and this is to say nothing of the undecideds that could not make up their mind between the two candidates of "change."

In a primary that is expected to be incredibly close, 100 points could be the difference, or at least keep Obama a lot closer than he would have been had Edwards remained in the race.

Remember, unlike several Republican primaries (like Florida last night) the Democratic primaries are not winner take all. The go by proportional voting. For example, Clinton will win California, but it's by how much that is really important. There are 441 delegates up for grabs in California, but will she win 300 to Obama's 141 or 240 to Obama's 201? Edwards dropping out could mean the latter. Extend this to all 22 states, including states where Obama might win by more now, and you'll see how the delegates can add up quickly.

Which brings me to my conclusion: Why did Edwards drop out now? A week ago, I explained why he would:

"...the Democratic Primary is careening towards a Clinton nomination. If Edwards wants to stop it, he needs to drop out, point to Obama, and say "This is our guy." The amalgam of Edwards and Obama supporters would be enough to stop Clinton.

It is worth mentioning that this cannot wait until March or April. It cannot even wait for February 6th, the day after Super Tuesday, when the Edwards campaign truly dies. If Edwards waits that long, his national support will be in the high single digits, and his endorsement will mean less. Moreover, by then Clinton's lead may seem insurmountable, as she will put some distance between herself and Obama on the fifth, while half of the states have already voted."

So the reason for Edwards dropping out is simple. He read this blog.


Back tomorrow.

3 comments:

Darren said...

I was watching one of the cable networks last night and one of the talking heads referenced an unpublished poll by the AP and Yahoo. Apparently of Edwards supporters, 40% preferred Clinton as their second choice, while only 25% supported Obama. That's pretty interesting, although since the poll is not published we don't know how many people were asked, where they live, or what day they were polled. I don't see Obama gaining much help in states like CA, NY, NJ with Edwards out, but he might be able to scoop up the Edwards supporters in blue-collar middle America now.

The Dude said...

As a loyal reader I have to say, that was best post yet.

"He read this blog"...classic IC..

Frankenstein said...

I was sorry to see Edwards drop out not only because he bore an important message but because his failure to find widespread support indicates that people just don't care about his message. The broad support (no pun intended, really) of HIllary indicates to me that people are still unaware the extent to which corporations are running the country. But at the same time, the groundswell behind Barack tells me that there are indeed a lot of people who perceive that something's grievously wrong with our democracy. Whether these people have seen to the crux of it, I do not know, but I do believe Edwards (and Kucinich and Nader) do.

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